For the first time in five years, a preventable disease thought to have been eradicated reemerged in Costa Rica, inadvertently imported into the country by a 5-year-old French boy on vacation with his family.
This incident reintroduced measles to a developing region recently plagued by Dengue and Zika. The family was quarantined in the Puntarenas Hospital for the remainder of their vacation and a health campaign was launched by the Costa Rican Health Ministry (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social) to prevent a contagion.
Authorities are continuing to search for anyone that could have been in contact with the family throughout tourists’ hotspots in San Jose, Santa Teresa, and passengers on their Air France flight.
The measles virus is a highly contagious disease could prove deadly for children and those with a weakened or compromised immune system who are not inoculated. Although the disease is preventable, in recent years the crusade behind the antivaccination movement has resulted in a resurgence and drastic spike of preventable diseases reappearing in developed countries.
Currently, the viral effects of the antivaccination movement has families around the world convinced of the pseudo-dangers associated with vaccines, often choosing to forego inoculating their children. The “antivaxxer” community often rallies behind faux studies that link vaccines to autism and other developmental conditions and have used social media to spread this information.
A New York Times article detailing a study of the correlation between vaccines and autism conducted with Danish children over a ten-year period has refuted the argument these communities frequently rally behind.
The UK Telegraph quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as stating “that ‘vaccine hesitancy’ was among the 10 most serious threats to human health.” The WHO compiled a report linking measles and other preventable diseases as the cause of 6% worldwide childhood deaths.
Many social media sites, such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Google have been requested to take steps to control the misinformation on their platforms in an attempt to curb the spread of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.
I interviewed Costa Rican citizens Jason Blanco and Jessica Garita to get a better idea of the situation on the ground. The two currently reside in the province of Guanacaste and expressed concern over the susceptibility of the country in the event of an outbreak. Blanco stated that he “was a bit worried (about the outbreak) because the healthcare in Costa Rica isn’t as advanced as the United States” and would therefore “be more difficult to contain”. He discussed recent situations with outbreaks of Dengue and Zika, where the country “outsourced the help.”
Blanco and Garita expressed their experiences with vaccinations for travel requirements established by the government. Last year, Costa Rica received an influx of Guatemalan, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan refugees and implemented policies that required vaccinations for citizens and residents. As part of the program, the government launched a health campaign establishing clinics in every province, door-to-door services and offering vaccines for free in an effort to lessen the chance of an outbreak.
Garita mentioned that during the most recent health services campaign (Dec. 12 – Feb. 8), the goal was to vaccinate 770,000 children between the ages of 15 months and 9 years old. Blanco and Garita both noted the Costa Rican government has strict guidelines concerning vaccinations for children. Fines and sanctions are imposed on parents and schools frequently deny the students entry if their inoculation record is not up to date.
Regarding travel guidelines, Garita mentioned that during her time as a travel guide, South American tourists “needed an ID validating their shots before they could travel” and feels that “unvaccinated travelers pose a great risk to other travelers”.
Both Blanco and Garita discussed at length the services offered by the Costa Rican government and are grateful for the administration’s participation in their wellbeing. They stated that they feel that government intervention in health services is “justified because vaccination isn’t just helping the country, its helping everybody else”.